CLEMSON - To say Brent Venables is seeing a transformation on the corners year one to year two…would be an understatement.
His prime example? Last week’s first half at Maryland, where most prominently, he was missing junior Bashaud Breeland due to suspension and already down another cornerback to injury ( Garry Peters).
"We gave up (one) touchdown and did really good with Bashaud out," said Venables, whose defense picked off two passes and allowed 5.2 yards per attempt outside of the first half score. "We're not having (a) 'without Bashaud Breeland defensive callsheet.' He's been in great position, but we have a system and expect the next man up.
"A year ago, trust me - man, we had that different callsheet. Oh, man. Adam Humphries came in (from offense) and did a great job. I told him, 'You have cover 1-2-3 - can you you do that?' He did great. It was very surprising. Those other guys have done well and we're hoping to get Garry back real quick and he's played well. Darius Robinson has played really well. They're all playing at a much more consistent level."
Boyd relaxed, Alexander coming on from injury
The Tigers have knocked off almost seven yards on average in the passing game from last year to this year, but more impressive, they have their first top-40 pass efficiency 'D' since 2010 (No. 36, 119.75).
At full-strength, they've worked with a rotation of Breeland (11 passes defended) and Peters (3 passes defended) on one side and Robinson (5 passes defended, INT TD) and junior Martin Jenkins (3 passes defended, INT TD) on the other. Freshman DB Korrin Wiggins (4 passes defended) and Jenkins have put in work at the hybrid nickelback as well.
"We all kind of know what our strengths are and what our weaknesses are," Wiggins said. "We're jelling and we all have a feel for what we can do. The corners are aggressive and they like to press and jam up. The safeties know they have to play off of them.
"As far as the back-seven, we know when to pass-off and know where we're supposed to be. As far as weaknesses, there's not really weaknesses right now. Sometimes guys get a little aggressive"
Venables will take the aggression, but he needs everyone on the same page, hitting the season's final stretch.
"When things breakdown, you can't stop people," he said. "If you're supposed be down and we spill the ball to do you, you got to make the tackle. It may not be a textbook tackle, but it needs to be one that allows four yards in a worst case scenario. When you're not doing those things, it kills you."
BATTLE BACK IN TACKLE MIX?
Clemson sits in 92nd nationally in sacks (3.6 per game) and 99th in tackles for loss allowed (6.9) at the season's two-thirds mark, and at offensive tackle, another option could very well be emerging to help rectify that.
Standing 6-7 275, Isaiah Battle's issue has never been talent, but more on his day-to-day mentality.
He had a strong fall camp and played 70 snaps in the Tigers' first three games, but Battle sent himself to the showers at N.C. State, throwing a blatant upper-cut punch on a Wolfpack defender. His playing time has been limited since, suspended one game and playing only 32 snaps over the next four.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney says that could change soon.
"Out there in practice I was bragging on him," he said, "and knock on wood, I was just saying that old guy is starting to figure it out. The last week and a half to two weeks, it looks like he's getting ready. He's practicing the way you need to practice.
"He's been much more engaged and in tune to the little things and he's shown a lot of toughness. I'm very encouraged about what I've seen out of him."
The Tigers head coach draws a comparison, which if on the mark, will work out just fine for Clemson.
"He's coming," Swinney said. "I put him in the category of Vic Beasley last year. You can see it. The light is starting to come on and he's seeing the bigger picture. Hopefully it's the same result as Vic."
Battle is currently the backup left tackle, but he's seen time there with Brandon Thomas switching right tackle in prior games.
"Everything is an option," said Swinney. "We'll do anything we can do win a ballgame. Anything is an option and you evaluate every day and every game. He's always an option and we'll see how our guys play.
Clemson isn't the first top-10 team Virginia has played this season in Charlottesville (lost to No. 2 Oregon 59-10), and if that's any indication, it's not a surprise they've played the toughest schedule in the nation.
All but one of their opponents have a winning record at this point, and half of teams have two losses or less here through nine weeks, holding a 51-21 combined record (.708).
How much that really helps come Saturday is to be determined, as they’re 1-6 against those winning programs - losing by almost 18 points per game.